As we have seen through the stories of Kakenya and Exildah women and girls achieve amazing things when given equal access to education and a space in which they can fulfill their potential. I saw this first hand a few years ago when I volunteered in the tiny country of Belize and then in its neighbour, Guatemala – both times working with NGOs that worked to empower women through education and advocacy.
In Belize I worked with women and girls from poorer communities to create opportunities for education. While education is essentially “free”, compulsory uniforms and school registration fees pose a significant obstacle to education for many children. Women are not considered potential bread winners for the family, so if a family can’t afford to send all their children to school, it is the girls who are held back first.
Young women also have little or no access to reproductive education or family planning information because most schools are affiliated with religious organisations that don’t do sex education. This means often young women become mothers too early and don’t get a chance to complete their education. High HIV prevalence rates worsen the situation for women.
Finally, a staggering amount of women in Belize suffer domestic abuse. Domestic violence poses a significant obstacle to education and equal opportunity. Women living in violence are less likely to seek equal rights or opportunities for themselves or their children, particularly female children, due to fear, or a belief they are not deserving of their rights.
Access to computers and the internet is something that most of us take for granted. It’s also a mark of our technological advancement and educational opportunity. Many females in poorer Belizean communities do not have the opportunity to complete their education, let alone access to computers and computer training.I therefore decided to run computer training workshops for young women, no longer in school, from within two of my then local communities. After managing to acquire some (very old) computers, I set about running the workshops once I had got the donated computers working. They had been hauled straight out of the nineties and had not been touched since!The workshops were publicised throughout the communities and the response I received from women was incredible. I had planned to run the workshops once a week but with the overwhelming response I had, with women queuing out the door to sign up, I ended up running the workshops several nights a week. When asked what they most wanted to learn, the women unanimously stated that they wanted to learn to use the internet and to send emails.After running the workshops for ten weeks, all the women learnt to send emails and use the internet. This was wonderful to see, especially considering that when many of the women started they did not know that a mouse was anything other than a small, hairy cheese-loving rodent..
While it may seem a small thing enabling women to use the technology we so readily take for granted on a daily basis, for these women it gave them the opportunity to begin to pursue their ambitions in a space in which they were comfortable, and free to learn.We all share similar dreams and aspirations, regardless of where or who we are. What differs is where in the world we were born, and the opportunities we are given to achieve our dreams. As I stood amongst a gaggle of women learning to the use the internet in Belize, I realised that if everyone’s to have these opportunities, we’re going to need to work together.